Deader Than Undead
Even though 2008's 30 Days of Night (based upon the first in a series of three graphic novels by Steve Niles) finished in first place for its opening weekend and went on to gross $75 million, the sequel was probably always destined to be a straight-to-DVD effort. For one thing, the first movie ended after the main character Sheriff Eben Oleson (little Josh Hartnett, giving it his all) intentionally vamped out and killed the vampire clan's leader, Marlow (the indispensable Danny Huston) before turning to ash when the sun finally rose at the end of the first movie. Dude was deader than undead. End of story or, at least, that's how it should have been and was probably engineered as such by the filmmakers. While adapting the first of three graphic novels by Steve Niles, 30 Days took great care to omit the comic's absurd references to the vampire politics going on behind the scenes of the horror story. As a result, the movie was leaner and more efficient telling of the tale and a much scarier one at that.
Needless to say, the largely positive viewing experience provided by director David Slade spurred me to check out the comic book series as a whole. Very quickly, I could tell that the second graphic novel, Dark Days, simply was not cinema-friendly material. If the studio had wanted to follow up 30 Days in a financially viable manner, they should have skipped Dark Days and headed straight towards Return to Barrow territory, wherein a new sheriff must once again defend the town during the town's yearly descent into darkness. Now, audiences will never get a chance to see how Barrow's survivors use hindsight to their advantage, for Dark Days has essentially killed the movie franchise. Then again, even if this sequel hadn't turned out to be so inferior to the first movie's celebration of vampiric badassery, the past few years have witnessed a reduction of Hollywood's portrayal of vampires to a subspecies of pouty little sparklepants. To restate the obvious, this sequel should never have happened.
Hence the direct-to-DVD release of Dark Days and the loss of Slade -- who, ironically, recently wasted his skills upon the aforementioned sparklers by directing Eclipse -- and the demise of any sense of atmosphere in the picture. Slade did a fantastic job of working with the story's natural geographical constraints to place his characters into claustrophobic situations and evoke a general sense of dread. In doing so, he translated the comic's illustrations by Ben Templesmith into horrific cinematic counterparts. The new helmer, Ben Katai, necessarily removes the stark white palette upon which vampires euphorically spilled the blood of so many humans and takes the story into the gritty underbelly of Los Angeles. Katai certainly knows how to point a camera but gets a bit lost in the details, so there's never any sense of where the story is headed or who these new vampires, who are supposed to be closely related to yet seem so different than the other clan, really are. Of course, anyone who hasn't read the graphic novels won't know who the hell these new vamps are, since the first movie left out all reference to their very existence. Then again, audiences will be hard pressed to even care since there's just so much awfulness about which to complain.
Ultimately, the sequel doesn't feel like it even belongs to the original film. Even Melissa George refused to board this second ship, so the role of Stella Oleson has been taken over by Kiele Sanchez (A Perfect Getaway). While Sanchez scores a few points over the waif-like George by physically resembling the badly-drawn Stella character, Sanchez fails to communicate the essence of Stella as a spirited survivalist even as her flat opening monologue details the first movie's deadly assault upon Barrow. After the opening credits roll, the newer and more wooden version of Stella stands before a crowd while giving a speech to accompany the book she wrote about the horrible events that she witnessed. While Stella aims to spread the truth of what happened -- that those people weren't killed by fire but by vampires -- she's essentially written off a crazy conspiracy theorist type. Of course, the entire concept of Dark Days is a bit kooky because, apparently, vamps are everywhere among us and have even infiltrated the FBI (and probably "Night Court" too).
After Stella exposes the audience's few lingering vamps to ultraviolet lamps (an entirely lame attempt to cinematically replicate one of Eben's prior stunts), she hooks up with some vampire hunters -- Paul (Rhys Coiro), Todd (Harold Perrineau), and Amber (Diora Baird) -- who don't even appear in the comics at all. Perhaps this was an effort to amp up the action factor, but it fails miserably and further worsens when the trio is aided by Dane (Ben Cotton), who has essentially been transformed from a rogue (as he is written in the comics) into some Cullenized freak who drinks his blood from a fridge stash. How civilized! Meanwhile, the movie adopts an all-too-serious quest to kill the leader of all vampires, Lilith (Mia Kirshner), but it's all so laughable. As shallow as this sounds, the most enjoyable part of Dark Days is a startlingly stirring sex scene between Stella and Paul. For this scene alone, perhaps a drunken Netflix viewing isn't the worst idea that you'd ever have, but it's certainly not the wisest idea either.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.
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